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The Zverev case, the rankings issue & the 5-set debate – Match Points #20

In the latest edition of Match Points, Marion Bartoli, Noah Rubin and Ben Rothenberg discuss the burning issues of the day, including whether the ATP should act in the accusations of domestic abuse levelled at Alexander Zverev by his ex-girlfriend.

November 29, 2020
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Host Josh Cohen kicked off Match Points #20 by asking what the ATP should do about the allegations of domestic abuse levelled against Alexander Zverev, made by his ex-girlfriend.

Though the ATP belatedly made a statement on November 13, condemning any form of violence, it also suggested it could only act if there was a legal process underway.

New York Times journalist Rothenberg said the ATP needed to be much more pro-active.

“I do think the ATP needs to do something. As it stands now, it’s unresolved and that’s a problem for everyone involved. I think the ATP can follow the lead of other sports, (which) have learned the hard way from other sports. Tennis could have gotten ahead of this issue before it got close to home. I think they need to institute some sort of policy, personal code of conduct for players. Right now it’s too vague. I think especially with an issue like domestic violence you can have a position where you only do something if there is a legal proceeding because so often there isn’t in these cases. I don’t think it helps the sport. I don’t think it’s good for him (Zverev) either.”

Alexander Zverev, Rolex Paris Masters 2020

Former Wimbledon champion Bartoli said it was “disturbing that the ATP has not reacted yet”. If the accusations are proven, she said, then “some serious action needs to be taken against Sascha” while Rubin said the Tour needed to be careful not to further damage its image.

“I’ve spoken to tennis fans who say this is not OK, you can’t have people just smiling, acting like nothing’s happening, when something of this severity is happening in our sport,” Rubin said. “Whatever actually took place, that’s up to us to find out, but it’s scary for us to act like this is the status quo and let’s just move on.

Is the adjusted ranking system flawed?

Cohen then switched to the topic of the ATP and WTA rankings, which were adjusted in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Under the new system, players will not start to drop points until March 2021. Is that fair? Is there a better solution?

Rubin said it was helping players but that it had its downsides too.

“It’s saving a lot of players, just for the time being, but players can’t really move up the rankings unless they’re doing extremely well. With the prize money (cuts) players are working twice as hard for half the money.”

Bartoli said she had been in several meetings with the WTA, who explained they were trying to help the majority of players but especially those between 50 and 100, who might otherwise have dropped out of the top 100 and lost money-making opportunities, because they couldn’t get into the main draws of Grand Slam events.

“The WTA felt this was the best solution, to save the players who were sort of scared to go back into competition, to guarantee them a spot to be back on the Tour next year with the same ranking,” she said. “For the top 10 maybe they could have found a better solution, whereas you have a No 1 (Ash Barty) who has not played. I think a better solution would have been if a player had been able to play in a tournament, then you should withdraw the points from last year and keep the points from this year. If you can’t play it, you keep your points from the year before.”

Is Djokovic right that slams should go best of three sets?

The discussion then moved on to that old chestnut, whether Grand Slams would be best served to change from best-of-five format to best of three, a topic again in the news after world No 1 Novak Djokovic proposed doing just that.

Rubin, who is a strong supporter of reducing the length of matches, was slightly torn this time.

“I agree that the first week should be three sets, the second week can be best of five. (But in the pandemic), the slams are the (only) ones who are doing well. I think this is kind of thing that’s the last thing to (try to) change. I’d say keep best of five and let’s worry about something else.”

Novak Djokovic, ATP Finals, 2020

Bartoli said she believes in tradition and wants best of five to stay, and instead would like the Tours to look at fresh ways to shake up the sport.

“To me we have to rethink the way tennis is broadcast. You don’t really feel like you’re on court with a tennis player hitting a tennis ball. Let’s try to figure out a much better way to engage the fans,” she said.

All three guests said they were surprised that Djokovic, one of the fittest and strongest players on Tour, physically and mentally, should be pushing best of three, but Rothenberg said having him on board added strength to the argument.

“I do think having Djokovic be such a good best of five player and want best of three adds credibility to it,” he said. Andy Murray said more forceful things, he said as a fan, he would never watch a best of five match from beginning to end (on TV). I think that’s the reality tennis needs to be aware of. I think it’s unrealistic (for people to watch the whole thing). I don’t think tennis is popular because it’s an endurance sport. That’s not what drew me to tennis, I like seeing the craft, creativity, the talent and the skill. I don’t think emphasising the insurance side is important to the essence of tennis.”

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